As soccer-smitten citizens watch in wonderment, Indian and Pakistani expatriates in Dubai and Qatar have braced for the vaunted Asia Cup cricket match between the two rivals who are often at loggerheads over everything from sports to soap operas.
The two sides will meet at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday with the Indian team looking to get even for their T20 World Cup defeat at the same venue in 2021. Pumped up fans in Gulf countries are keenly looking forward to the encounter as match tickets have been lapped up much in advance with people from UAE's neighbouring countries like Qatar and Bahrain planning to travel to the glitzy Emirate to watch the spectacle.
Pakistani fans have been somewhat disappointed due to the absence of left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi from the squad since a knee injury sustained in July.
Amna Pervaiz Rao, a diehard fan is despondent that Afridi is not part of the team. "The outcome of the match is unpredictable. However, I would have really liked it if our star pacer Afridi were playing," said Doha-based Rao, who works as an editor in the Communications Department of Qatar University.
Another Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Wasim Jr. was ruled out of the Asia Cup due to a left side strain, media reports said on Friday evening.
Sri Lankan fan Chinthana Priyankara thinks most of the players haven't played against one another, so it will be a test for both teams. "One of the two teams will definitely get through to the final. Both India and Pakistan are in best shape and it is too early to predict who that will be," said Priyankara who has lived in Qatar for seven years.
Since an encounter between India and Pakistan is always something a little bit more than cricket, we will get to see a top-notch faceoff, added Priyankara."As Sri Lankan fans, we feel safe in the other group, but we will be watching both the sides, expecting to meet one of them in the next round," added Priyankara.
Celebrated Indian batsman Virat Kohli was in Qatar's capital Doha earlier this week before reaching Dubai for the tournament.
Rajesh Patwardhan, who works in the aviation industry, is keen to watch the match live in Dubai. He and some of his friends have bought air tickets for Saturday and want to spend the time before the coveted encounter "chilling out in Dubai. "I can't wait for Saturday when I am flying out with two of my friends. We won't probably sleep on the night of Saturday excited as we are to watch our heroes in Dubai on Sunday. "India will definitely trounce Pakistan and we are looking forward to that moment, he said.
Tickets for the match were sold out within minutes of being put out on sale, leaving many fans disappointed.
"As Dubai residents, we always look forward to such an event. Even though we are not going to the stadium, we will watch it on a giant projector screen at home with family and friends," said Debasish Barua, who is head of commercial at GTS FZCO in Dubai. The excitement is very high, whether one is watching in the stadium or not, added the Dubai expat whose son plays for the Under-19 Sharjah team.
Pakistani national Usman Shujaat Ali is willing to rise above the jingoism. He hopes that the team which plays better wins. "When it's Pakistan versus India, the cricket fever, thrill and excitement peaks. The passion of winning on the day is slightly more than on other days. I got to know through social media that Virat Kohli was in Doha. I wish there was a meet and greet for his fans", said the avid follower of the game. The senior business development executive who works with a leading private company in Doha wants to come back early from work on Sunday to watch the match on television.
Abilash Nalappat, an Indian national working in the sports industry in Qatar, is eagerly looking forward to the encounter. "I recall watching India-Pakistan white ball matches from my early childhood with family and friends. A lot of these memories are from the CBFS series in Sharjah under the patronage of Mr Bukhatir. In one game in April of 1985 we successfully defended a score of 125 and bowled out Pakistan for less than 90 runs," said Nalappat.
"I hope India can put behind the disappointing performance in the ICC T20 World Cup last year against Pakistan in Dubai and we get to see a team which have dominated the encounters between the two arch rivals over the last decade," added Nalappat.